Prospect of a massive war grips the Middle East

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The developments of the past few days in the Middle East, especially in Syria, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have triggered an atmosphere of fear concerning a conflict that may involve the entire region.

In the past day, Turkey has already pursued Kurdish militants inside Syria using heavy artillery against targets south of its border with Syria. The Syrian government and Turkish military have confirmed that targets have been hit in Hatay Province, Aleppo Province, Idlis Province, and Latakia Province inside Syria.

Damascus has already sent a letter of complaint to the United Nations, where it described the attacks as an assault on Syrian government forces. It called for the UN to “take responsibility for international peace and security by putting an end to the crimes committed by the Turkish regime.” It also added that Ankara’s offensive is “an attempt to increase the morale of armed terrorist groupings, who are being defeated (by the Syrian Arab Army).”

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has started to mass its troops near Syria as part of a military ‘exercise’, announcing it as the “largest and most important” in the region’s history. Over the weekend, Riyadh also announced its commitment to oust the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) threat out of Syria thus justifying its planned military drills, which as of press time, will commence in a few hours.

Riyadh’s and Ankara’s military escalation an act of desperation

Although far from being implemented, last week’s talks of a cessation in hostilities in Syria as discussed by major world powers in Munich have been received rather negatively by the Saudis and Turkish government. For one, both countries fear that a cease fire agreement might benefit Bashar Al Assad, Syria’s legitimate president, to stay in power and put to waste their 5-year effort of supporting the so-called ‘moderate’ rebels fighting the Syrian government.

Syria’s government described the Turkish attack on Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city and stronghold of different terrorist groups including Islamic State, as retaliation for the advances made by the Syrian military against rebel groups fighting Assad’s regime. The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted that the artillery firing was in response to Kurdish insurgency crossing into Turkey’s border with Syria. Contrary to this claim, it has been revealed that Turkey’s interest in Syria has been the supply of illegal oil being shipped from IS to refineries in Turkey – an operation which was stopped by the Russian air campaign against Islamic State.

Escalation will lead to total war in the region

The Turks and Saudis possible ground offensive in Syria will have unimaginable consequences for the region. At present, the conflict in Syria already involves all major rebel and terror groups in the region, including the likes of Al Qaeda, Al-Nusrah Front, and Islamic State. The United States and Russia are involved in ‘fighting’ IS, but both having a different outcome in mind for Syria’s future. NATO forces are also involved in the military operations, as provided by the UK, France, and now Turkey.

Experts and commentators alike have described the Syrian Civil War as a “proto-world war with nearly a dozen countries embroiled in two overlapping conflicts.” In the latest Munich Security Report, it has been stated that “for the first time since the end of the Cold War, the escalation of violence between major powers cannot be dismissed as an unrealistic nightmare.”

Russia is aiming to maintain a transitional government that includes the present leadership of Syria, a prospect opposed by the United States, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and their allies. Syria’s main ally in the region, Iran, also supports Moscow’s position. Iraq and Lebanon also shares a Syria that still involves Bashar Al Assad’s regime.

The government of Turkey, which authorized the downing of Russian bomber jet back in November 2015, is currently bombarding targets in Syria, choosing to use artillery instead of its air force to avoid Russia’s anti-aircraft installation in the northern part of Syria.

Syria has warned that any invasion force that challenges the country’s sovereignty will be considered an act of war. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who for years has advocated a negotiated settlement for Syria, gave a grim warning against such invasion force, saying that “the Americans and our Arab partners must think well: do they want a permanent war? All sides must be compelled to sit at the negotiating table instead of unleashing a new world war.”

So far, the American position in this latest conflict escalation is to lead the different factions back into the negotiating table and warned Turkey and the Saudis against destabilizing actions in Syria, as stated by US Secretary of State John Kerry in a recent Munich Security Conference. Curiously though, behind the negotiations US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he expects commando units from Saudi and the UAE to start covertly invading Syria.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced in a conference that “there is some serious discussion going on with regards to looking at a ground component in Syria, because there has to be a possibility of taking and holding ground, that one cannot do from the air.” The Foreign Minister is advocating for a ground offensive, but that which should involve and be led by the United States. Earlier, he also called for the removal of Bashar al-Assad “by force.”

As for the Iranians they have warned that a military escalation led by the Saudis will be met in kind. Speaking in Tehran, Iranian Deputy Staff Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri declared that “we will not let the situation in Syria get out of control so that some rogue states could implement their policies. If needed, we will take some appropriate decisions.”

2016: What’s ahead for the world?

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By and large the previous year was a year of crisis escalation, brought forth by the emergence of new sources of tension not only in diplomacy but also in actual military conflict. On the one hand, fresh sources of armed engagement and humanitarian issues had world leaders worried overnight (ISIS beyond Syria and Iraq, Russian intervention in Syria, migrant crisis in Europe). These events were not predicted before 2015.

2016 will be marked by an increase in local conflicts, like in Ukraine and in the Arabian Peninsula where the rift between Sunni and Shia Muslims will intensify. In fact, as of press time, Saudi Arabia has cut off all diplomatic ties with Iran, the latter infuriated over the execution of a prominent Shia cleric. It is expected to be joined by other Sunni majority countries in the Middle East. This year might just be the time for the spreading of these conflicts to more states.

The presidential elections in the United States will put on hold major foreign policy decisions, as the American public gets distracted by the convoluted race to the White House. As for the exiting American president, Obama will protect what he has accomplished in 2015, including the rapprochement with Iran and Cuba.

As the United States continues to be rejected in many areas of the world, the leadership vacuum that it will create will give opportunities to other major powers, and with it, a new era of anti-West geopolitics will emerge. The post-American century is an irreversible occurrence now as other major powers like Russia, China, and Brazil take on responsibilities beyond their typical spheres of influence. In the military sphere, Russia has re-entered the Middle East in a big way, while China will now formally launch the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), aimed at rivaling the IMF and World Bank.

The global economy is expected to be ‘disappointing and uneven’ in 2016 because of the continuing slowdown in China, sluggishness in world trade, the threat of rising interest rates in the US, the ongoing fall of oil prices, and the vulnerability of emerging economies to absorb economic shocks, according to the IMF.

General elections will take place in Taiwan, a Western-backed state that is unsure about its identity vis-à-vis China. The emerging leader might give Beijing fresh fears regarding the longstanding One-China policy. The UK public will go to the polls to decide whether to stay or leave the European Union, while in the Philippines, presidential elections will decide whether a future leader will continue to provoke China and further impress the United States for its own benefit.

Islamic State (ISIS) is expected to be put on hold territorially in Syria and Iraq, thanks to Russia’s military intervention. However, it might gain influence beyond the region as other terrorist groups (like Boko Haram in Nigeria, and other groups from Somalia to terror groups in South East Asia) pledge their allegiance to Daesh.

The United States and NATO will further infuriate Moscow as it decides on sending nuclear weapons to Poland, a former Warsaw Pact member. As a result of Washington’s antagonizing policies in Europe, Russia will further invest in its armed forces, which might trigger a new, expensive, and unnecessary arms race in continental Europe.

Europe’s most powerful leader, Angela Merkel, is expected to leave office after three successive terms. What this might mean for Europe is a change in policy towards Russia (sanctions), the migrant crisis, the German commitment to the entire Eurozone project and Berlin’s attitude towards economically and socially troubled states like Spain, Greece, and Italy.

Turkey betrays Russian efforts to contain ISIS with shooting down of military aircraft

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Ending the Syrian Civil war has just took a step backward as Turkey, a member of the imperialist NATO military alliance, shot down a Russian warplane on a bombing mission to eradicate ISIS inside Syrian territory.

In the immediate hours after this major military incident, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan furiously defended his position, stating that “I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us…those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize.”

Russia’s response was calm but with hints of Washington’s involvement in the matter, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stating his country has no intention of going to war with Turkey, while Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted that “the American side, which leads a coalition that Turkey belongs to, knew about the location and time of our plane’s flights”, effectively accusing the US of passing the mission’s details to Ankara.

Moscow also accused Turkey of a ‘planned provocation’ and supporting ISIS (there is considerable evidence showing such) in the fight against Syrian military forces to overthrow President Bashar Al Assad. Putin alleged once again that “we see from the sky where these (stolen oil) vehicles are going. They are going to Turkey (from terrorist controlled territory in Syria) day and night.”

Now that the damage has been done, Russia announced it will strengthen its position in northern Syria, along the Turkish border, by installing highly-advanced anti-aircraft weaponry as well as a series of economic sanction against Turkey.

The sanctions include a ban on goods, cancellation of labor contracts, halting of investment projects, and Russia’s advice to its citizens to avoid holidaying in Turkey because of security concerns. Russia is Turkey’s second biggest trading partner, and a major supplier of energy to the country.

Syria Recap: Who supports who?

Turkey has an interest in carrying out the United States’ declaration of ‘Assad must go’ policy towards Syria, while Russia is interested in maintaining the Syrian regime to be in charge of the country.

As such, with Moscow’s military intervention in Syria since the end of September, Ankara saw this as threat to its grand ambitions in Syria. Turkey tacitly supports ISIS and other ‘moderate’ rebel groups to oust Assad. While Washington openly declares war with ISIS, it is not doing so in such a way that will endanger rebel forces fighting the Syrian government. Indeed, the decision to down a Russian bomber in Syria reflects Turkey’s frustration in the current situation in Syria.

As Moscow steadily weakened Islamic State positions in Syria, policy makers in Washington and its allies became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that a supposedly external power, Russia, is setting the agenda in the Middle East.

For Turkey, which is suspected of doing the bidding for NATO to compromise Russian air campaigns against rebel groups and in fact called NATO first instead of Moscow after downing the Russian Su-24 bomber, its interest lay in derailing the huge steps Russia has made to marginalize and defeat ISIS.

As for the United States, it is not pleased to work with other regional actors, like Russia and Iran, for doing so will show that its influence is starting to erode; that its being the region’s de facto hegemon is steadily being assigned to Moscow and Tehran.

McCain’s anti-reality and hysteria a reflection of the West’s insecurities towards Russian war in Syria

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By now, the Russian military’s involvement in the ongoing Syrian Civil War is not breaking news. The facts have been properly laid down and conveyed to the watching world with reports that are verified, and in some cases, in a high-tech kind of delivery. What seems like a constant CCTV feed from the skies and the seas has shown highly accurate weapons raining down on the otherwise common enemy that is the Islamic State (IS).

What is perhaps interesting is how, predictably, the West has downplayed the Russian effort, from spreading slanderous unconfirmed reports of dead civilians to President Putin’s macho-man image reporting in the Western mainstream media. Indeed, even for the West, especially in Washington, the enemy of your enemy is still your enemy.

For one, John McCain, the Republican politician who previously lost his presidential ambition to Obama back in 2008, and famous for advocating military aggression and political subversion, has recently shared his hysterical interpretation of Moscow’s war against Islamic State in Syria.

In a chilling, Hollywood-style op-ed published in CNN, McCain blamed the Obama administration’s weakness in confronting its adversaries, most especially Russia. He sees Moscow’s bombing of IS forces in Syria as just an effort to restore Russia’s image in the Middle East. What he does not recognize, and most Americans perhaps, is the fact that the spread of terrorism, which the United States helped foster in the first place, is a major concern for Putin, as the countries plagued by extremism is really not that far from Russia’s southern flanks.

He opined that Putin “must be stopped, not least because he will inflame every aspect of this conflict in the process: the refugee crisis, the mass atrocities and the growth of ISIS.” What McCain overlooked is the fact that if it weren’t for his country’s intervention in the Syrian conflict, ISIS would’ve not strengthened and spread in the Middle East. The fact is that these extremely violent Islamists where the ‘moderate’ rebels they were supporting during the early years of the so-called Arab Spring.

Washington’s brand of frenzied foreign policy is not generous enough for McCain and his Republican panic crew: he’s called for “check(ing) Putin’s ambitions…impose greater costs on Russia’s interests…by striking significant Syrian leadership or military targets.” As a former military man himself, does he understand the possible chain of events that might follow if the United States directly attacked Syria’s military? He seems to have forgotten that Washington’s involvement in Syria is not authorized by the United Nations and thus is an illegal act under international laws.

And then McCain indulges in more disgusting assault, calling for more pressure against Russia ‘where it counts’ including sending more weapons to Ukraine, spreading corruption exposes on the Russian leadership, and even more sanctions against Moscow. He added that the US can find ‘willing partners’ in Europe for another ‘coalition of the willing’ (or killing) to further prop up the ‘moderate opposition.’ Finally, he called America’s intervention as it’s ‘last opportunity to make a difference in Syria and avert a strategic disaster…we cannot afford to squander.”

For their part, the Western mainstream media continues to indulge in spreading and amplifying unconfirmed reports of the alleged victims caused by the Russian expedition inside Syria. For instance, the reported civilian casualties resulting from the Russian air campaign where actually spread even before the first bomber sorties had even begun. Also, the purported landing of Russian cruise missiles in Iran has been confirmed (by Tehran and Moscow) to be just ‘part of the intensified Western propaganda war.’

Such apocalyptic visions and mantra of ‘intervene-now-or-never’ runs contrary to what’s spewing out of the Kremlin. For their part since the beginning, Russia has expressed interest in finding “pragmatic ways to join efforts against the common threat.” Putin has expressed his country’s interest in establishing a broad coalition to fight Islamic State, from the simple sharing of intelligence (a proposal Washington rejected) to ending the ‘training program’ of ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels in the ground. In fact, the United States has airdropped a fresh supply of weapons, some 50 tons of it, to support their Syrian puppets.

Washington’s obsession with bringing poisoned ‘democracy’ A.K.A. regime change to the Middle East should be stopped for good if the region deserves to be in peace. It has been clear that the ‘must-go’ policy pursued by the United States against Arab dictators has only worsened the situation. The quagmire has exploded out of proportion that even Europe, with the present influx of refugees to the continent, needed to tackle this otherwise non-issue.

On the lost Arab Spring and the influence of politics on policy

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It is perhaps fair to say the Arab Spring was such a missed opportunity, and in many ways, it is.

The Arab Spring was supposed to be the vanguard for change in the complex politics of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It was launched on a platform of Arab democracy (as opposed to American democracy) that will instigate a wave of change, from free speech to economic opportunities.

Despite its disassociation from Western grand plans for the region, the Arab Spring was nevertheless glorified in the West. The revolution took everyone by surprise – including President Barack Obama himself. And it was almost hijacked by the Western mainstream media (BBC, CNN, Fox) as something that the West endorsed, especially with the exaggerated role that technology played to make it happen. They may have supported the revolution at a later point, but certainly did not play a role in its creation.

But some four years since the whole saga began in Tunisia, what we find is a more confused Western, and especially American, policy in the MENA region. For starters, the United States is still a big supporter of whatever Israel does (occasional wars against its neighbors, assassination of foreign leaders); it has a very good military relationship with Sunni Saudi Arabia regardless of Riyadh actions in the region; it used to support ‘moderates’ in such countries as Iraq and Syria where the same moderates have transformed them into extremism and ISIS; and now it is negotiating a historic nuclear deal with Iran, it’s supposed arch-nemesis in the region.

The politics of Obama’s final years in office

Opposed by both Israel and Saudi Arabia, the latest Iranian nuclear deal is being praised as a landmark breakthrough in Middle East policy. Notwithstanding the merits of such a deal, the agreement with Iran requires a deeper look especially since Obama’s days in the office is in 2016.

Before his second term started in 2012, Obama pulled out of Afghanistan in late 2011 – some 3 years later than what he had promised during his fight for presidential candidacy in 2008, and just a few months before he was to reassume office at the White House. Indeed, when policy is at the mercy of politics, things ‘suddenly’ get done.

The rush to accomplish things before the time is out

A clearly defined United States’ policy aside, the upcoming US presidential race will certainly shake things up, with more policies being concluded and other surprises being taken into consideration. For instance, we might see a Cuban breakthrough as America pursues normalization with Cuba, an island nation long been under the economic embargo of the United States. Perhaps we can also see a softening of American policy toward Russia and Ukraine to avoid a political backlash for the Democrats in the upcoming presidential elections, or the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison, a promise made by Obama since his 2008 nomination.

On April 12, Hillary Clinton will formally announce her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, a move that will mark the de-fact start of the intense presidential elections. Eight years since Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought it out for the nomination, a woman in the White House is no doubt an interesting thing to see. But we are not there yet: big promises are set to entertain again, just like how Obama promised the impossible before. Conversely, the remaining 19 months will be a thrilling time to see what gets accomplished in the final days of Obama’s presidency.

On a related note: The curious case of Netanyahu’s Congress stunt

To gain political ground for his party once more, America’s main ally in the region, Israel’s hysterical Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed his opposition to the US-Iran nuclear deal in a highly emotional speech before the US Congress. The same tactic of ‘getting things done’ at a critical moment persuaded Netanyahu to grandstand in the receptive US Congress to gain political leverage before a major election.

Unfortunately for him, Netanyahu’s Congress stunt did not grain traction among the wider American establishment. Beyond the shock and awe of his emotional speech calling for a strike against Iran (as always), the spotlight went to the fact that his US Congress speech was not endorsed by the White House (he actually bypassed Obama on this), that the war-hungry Republicans invited Netanyahu to make the speech, and that Obama has since pointed out that all foreign policy decisions should be endorsed by the White House.

Just like the US, Japan faces backlash for interventionist policy

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The term ‘backlash’ couldn’t be more accurate to describe Japan’s recent anti-pacifist agenda – a foreign policy course set by pro-American Prime Minister Shinzo Abe which has taken its toll with the recent Islamic State (IS) beheading of two Japanese citizens.

The beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, and defense contractor Haruna Yukawa has been described in the accompanying IS video as a form of personal retaliation against Shinzo Abe’s pledge to combat IS through the announcement of a $200 million non-military aid to countries fighting IS.

For his part, Abe condemned the killings, but also pledged that Japan would “resolutely fulfill its responsibility to the international community in the fight against terrorism.” Such statement sounds very much like what is spewing out of Washington’s propaganda machine (international community – US, John Kerry).

And very much like how the West takes advantage of such ‘despicable acts’, Mr. Abe also declared a need for a legislation “aimed at protecting the lives and well-being of the people…if Japanese abroad come under harm’s way, as in the recent case (IS beheading), the (Japanese military) Self-Defense Forces (SDF) aren’t able to fully utilize their abilities.”

As regrettable as it is for the families of those murdered by IS as a result of Abe’s militaristic policies, the backfiring of his new strategy to ‘engage’ the world and tackle ‘terrorism’ has been swift and brutal.  Following his pronouncements, his critics charged “no doubt the government will argue that this is all the more reason why Japan needs to rid of its constitutional ban on military and take on a fuller role in the ‘war on terror’” and that the beheading is a result of the Tokyo’s antagonistic foreign policy, which has its roots in Japan’s most uneasy neighbor: China.

Roots in China

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described Japan’s new foreign policy as ‘proactive pacifism’ which under no guise is aimed at China. But many see it as Tokyo’s renewed interests in expanding the nation’s military which, as historians would point out, should be a worrying direction the country must not take.

Since being in office, Mr. Abe has caused discomfort to his neighbors, particularly China and South Korea. So far, he has had close-call skirmishes with Beijing concerning disputed islands, Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine (a tribute to Japanese leaders convicted of war crimes), as well as his attempts to normalize relations with the breakaway island of Taiwan – an issue that is particularly sensitive for Beijing.

As his foreign policy have expanded not just beyond East and South East Asia, Abe’s policies elsewhere (especially in the Middle East) have made new enemies, all in the name of rearmament and global engagement to please Washington. And this policy did not come out of nowhere: the US is keen on rearming a country that has attacked it during World War II all in the name of containing China. Clearly the toxic relationship with Washington has taken its toll on its allies and lessons will always be learned the hard way as long as you are in Uncle Sam’s camp.